Student Voices in the P2P Provisions of the 2008 HEOA

As you undoubtedly know, college campuses are, in many ways, ground zero for the battles being waged for the future of intellectual property. The thousands of Americans that have been sued by the entertainment industry in the past few years include countless students who were accused of illegally downloading music.

Although the lawsuits may have stopped, the entertainment industry lobbyists are still set on using any means necessary to stop music “piracy” – oftentimes regardless of the unintended consequences. One of those efforts was included in a 2008 law entitled the Higher Education Opportunity Act which requires institutions of higher learning to take a number of steps to protect the business models of the entertainment industry.

Earlier this week, EDUCAUSE hosted a very informative webcast about how to comply with these P2P provisions. What follows is a summary and some thoughts on what students can do at their school.

The P2P Provisions

Gregory Jackson of EDUCAUSE outlined the requirements of the law. Essentially there are:

  1. An annual disclosure to students that copyright infringement subjects them to civil and criminal liabilities, a summary of the Federal penalties for copyright infringement, and a description of the school’s policies for copyright infringement.
  2. The development of plans to effectively combat unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials, including educating the community, procedures for handling transgressions, and employing at least one technological deterrents (such as bandwidth shaping, traffic monitoring, vigorously responding to DMCA notices, and 3rd party commercial products).
  3. Offer, to the extent practical, legal alternatives to P2P downloading, as determined by the institution.

There are some good pieces: the law is explicit in the individual autonomy and authority of schools in deciding the particularities of their plan (though it is obviously mandatory to comply); furthermore, none of these requirements should “unduly interfere” with the educational and research use of the network.

The Role of Students

Although this law, which in many ways turns our schools into private copyright cops for the entertainment industry, was largely crafted without the input of one of the largest constituencies – students – there is still room for us to be involved.

Schools have until July of next year to finalize their plans for compliance. There is a wide latitude for many of the provisions, oftentimes ranging from minimally objective to overtly troublesome. Administrators who may feel pressure to over-comply need to be reminded of the interest of their students in maintaining an open and enabling network.

Oftentimes, school policy-makers are happy to hear from students. At the University of Michigan, their innovative BAYU system (which alerts students they are uploading) was crafted with support of the student government and is very popular. This is a promising procedural and product model for other schools to examine.

Obviously, there are many worrisome parts of this law – privacy concerns due to network monitoring, stiffing of speech through the overuse of DMCA take-downs, and the high costs of compliance, to name three. Therefore, it is especially important that student voices are heard on this topic.

Reach out to the administrators and technologists on campus – they’re only an email away – offering your help and reminding them how important it is to get these questions correct.

[If you are especially interested in university network policy, be sure to get involved with the Open University Campaign’s effort to promote open networks at schools around the world.]

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